When was Jesus ordained a priest?

All seven of the Sacraments of the New Covenant were established by Christ. All seven Sacraments flow from the side of Christ, suffering and dying on the Cross for our Salvation. For just as Eve was created from the side of Adam, so the Church was created from the side of Christ. In one sense, the Sacraments were instituted by the salvific suffering and death of Jesus on the Cross.

However, the Apostles and disciples of Jesus baptized prior to His Crucifixion (Jn 3:22; 4:1-2). So the graces that flow from the Cross of Christ, including the graces of the Sacraments, were dispensed by Christ — who is Eternal God unbounded by time — to every time and place. Time is no obstacle to God, and so the disciples of Christ could dispense the Sacrament of Baptism prior to the Crucifixion. Thus Christ was able to receive, in His human nature, baptism and ordination to the priesthood, prior to His own death and resurrection, which is the source of all the Sacraments. Thus Christ was able to consecrate the Eucharist at the Last Supper, prior to His own death and resurrection, which is the basis for all the Sacraments.

The human nature of Christ

Is Mary the Mother of Jesus only according to His human nature? No, such a claim would be heresy. Mary is the Mother of God because Jesus is one Person with two natures: human and Divine. She is the mother of Jesus as a whole Person, so she is the Mother of God, not solely the mother of His human nature.

A priest is a human being with a certain role of leadership in religion, as is clear from the Jewish priesthood as well as the Christian priesthood. Christ can only be a priest due to His Incarnation, when he took upon himself a human nature. Similarly, Christ can only be the Son of Mary by His Incarnation. Jesus is the Son of Mary because He took upon Himself a human nature. But He is the Son of Mary as a Person, with two natures. Therefore, Christ is a priest as a whole Person, with two natures. He is not a priest solely in His human nature, for the priesthood pertains to the person, not merely the body.

The attribution of the priesthood of Christ solely to His human nature is a doctrinal error. This error separates the two natures of Jesus Christ, as if they were not of one Person, and attributes the priesthood only to the human nature, not also to the Person. This error is like the error of those heretics who deny that Mary is the Mother of God, the Mother of the one Person, Jesus, who has two natures. She became the Mother of Jesus because of His human nature, just as Christ became a priest because of His human nature. But she is the Mother of Jesus as a Person, just as Christ is a priest as a Person. Therefore, she is the Mother of God, and Christ is our high priest as one Person with two natures.

When was Jesus ordained?

Does this imply that Jesus was an ordained priest from His Incarnation? No, it does not. Reception of the Sacrament of Holy Orders can only occur after Baptism. Now Jesus did not need Baptism to save Him from original sin or personal sin. He was conceived/incarnate with sanctifying grace (and the Beatific Vision of God). But He nevertheless received the formal Sacrament of Baptism (not merely a baptism of desire or of blood) so that our Baptisms would be like His, and so that He would have the same indelible mark on the soul from Baptism that we also receive.

When did Jesus receive the formal Sacrament of Baptism? Did He receive it at His Incarnation/conception? No, for the formal Sacrament of Baptism cannot be received in the womb; it requires water (poured over the skin) and words. And since the formal Sacrament of Baptism must precede the Sacrament of Ordination, Jesus was not an ordained priest from His Incarnation. One might argue that, as the newborn (we could even say new-conceived) king of the Jews, Jesus was a non-ordained Jewish priest from conception and birth. For from His Incarnation and from His birth, he was king of the Jews and the head of the Jewish Faith. But His ordination under the New Covenant waited for the start of His Ministry.

Did Jesus behave like an ordained priest during His Ministry? Yes, indeed. Did He behave like an ordained priest before His Ministry? Not at all. Even as a young man in His twenties, He did not exercise a public Ministry, because He was not yet ordained as a priest under the New Covenant.

John baptized many human persons in the Jordan River, for repentance and forgiveness of sins. But his baptism was not the Sacrament of Baptism; instead, it was the culmination of the rituals and blessings of the Old Covenant. However, when John baptized Jesus with water, God the Father spoke and the Holy Spirit was sent upon Him. As the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus is ever united with the Father and the Spirit as one God. And His human nature, by virtue of the hypostatic union with His Divine Nature, always had perfectly full grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So what did this sending of the Spirit mean? It was the reception by Jesus of the formal Sacrament of Baptism, so that His soul would have the indelible mark of Baptism, so that He would show us the ordinary path of salvation (to be baptized), so that all who are baptized would be like Christ. Therefore, the baptism of Jesus by John was the formal Sacrament of Baptism, by water and the words of the Father.

But I say more. It was fitting for Jesus to receive not only the indelible mark on the soul of Baptism, but also of Confirmation and of Holy Orders. For those three Sacraments and only those three place an indelible mark on the soul. Since we receive that mark, in so far as any of us receive one or more of those Sacraments, so did Christ. As an ordained priest, Jesus must have received the indelible mark on His human soul that is part of the reception of Holy Orders. But he must also have received the Sacraments that precede Holy Orders: Baptism and Confirmation.

In one and the same event, by one and the same Act of the Father sending the Spirit, Jesus received three formal Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders. Moreover, his ordination was to the Episcopal degree, which subsumes the other two degrees (sacerdotal and diaconal). Jesus was baptized, confirmed, and ordained by the Father at the event of His baptism by John in the Jordan. Thereafter, Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert, and then began His public Ministry.


Over at the New Theological Movement blog, Fr. Ryan Erlenbush continues to teach doctrinal error to the faithful around the world. In his post on the ordination of Jesus to the priesthood, he asserts a number of errors.

He begins by asserting, correctly, that Jesus could only become a priest because He became incarnate, taking upon Himself a human nature. But then he draws the unwarranted conclusion that therefore Jesus was a priest, an ordained Catholic Christian priest, from conception. This conclusion does not follow. The fact that Jesus must take upon Himself a human nature in order to be a priest does not imply that He was a priest as soon as He did so. For each ordained priest must have a human nature, but each does not receive the priesthood when he is conceived, but only when he is ordained.

Furthermore, Baptism must precede ordination. If Jesus were an ordained priest from conception, then Jesus must have received the formal Sacrament of Baptism at conception. But as Fr. Ryan has said in previous posts, the formal Sacrament of Baptism cannot be received prior to birth. So his position implies that Jesus was ordained without the prior Sacrament of Baptism. Moreover, a priest fittingly (though perhaps not absolutely) must receive the Sacrament of Confirmation prior to the Sacrament of Holy Orders. So if Jesus were ordained a priest at conception, He would also have to have been Baptized and Confirmed at conception.

The problem with this set of assertions and their logical implications is that all the formal Sacraments are conferred by external actions, not solely by internal grace. A baptism of desire is not the formal Sacrament of Baptism; it lacks any exterior ritual. A person can be saved by a baptism of desire, but it is nevertheless not the formal Sacrament. No one can receive a formal Sacrament in the womb, because the exterior actions that confer the interior grace are lacking. Therefore, Jesus did not receive any formal Sacrament in the womb.

There are other errors in this same post by Fr. Erlenbush. He divides the human nature of Christ from His Divine Nature, even though these two natures are united in one Person. Though he accepts the hypostatic union of the two natures in one Person, he does not sufficiently account for this union in his blog posts. For example, he says:

Therefore, it is clear that he is not a priest according to his divinity…. Therefore, a divine Person (God the Son) is our Priest, but only according to his human nature.

In previous posts, he asserts much the same error. Is Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Fr. Ryan claims that Jesus is only the Way in His human nature, and only the Truth and the Life in His Divine Nature:

“Jesus is not the Way according to his divinity”
“in his humanity, Christ is not our salvation”

The attribution of a role of Jesus solely to His Divinity, or solely to His humanity, despite the hypostatic union, is a serious doctrinal error.

But the dogma of Mary as the Mother of God shows us the true meaning of two natures as one Person. Mary is Mother of Jesus because He became Incarnate in her. But she is nevertheless the Mother of the whole Person of Jesus, and therefore the Mother of God. It would be a grave error to say that Mary is “not the mother of Jesus according to His Divinity”, or that she is the mother of Jesus “only according to his human nature”. And it is the same type of error to say that Jesus is not the Way according to His Divinity, or that He is not our salvation in his humanity, or that He is a priest only according to His human nature. The two natures are united as one Person, therefore Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life in His whole Person. Therefore Jesus is our high priest as a whole Person.

In the same post on the priesthood of Jesus, Fr. Ryan reasserts a previously stated error on the knowledge that Jesus had in His human nature. See my summary of Fr. Ryan Erlenbush’s doctrinal errors here.

Fr. Ryan Erlenbush does much harm to souls by teaching many serious doctrinal errors. He should leave the teaching of theology to theologians. Not every priest has the gift from God to be able to understand and teach Roman Catholic theology. Different gifts and different roles are given to different persons.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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10 Responses to When was Jesus ordained a priest?

  1. John says:

    Taken from NTM Website comment section of Fr. Erlenbush’s article ‘Was Jesus Ordained a Priest ?

    Simeon said…
    Father (Erlenbush) ,
    How can Jesus be ordained to the priesthood even before he was baptized ? This does not make sense if this what your are saying ? Please clarifiy. Thansk.

    Father Ryan Erlenbush said…
    Your question illustrates the point well!

    You see, only a heretic who held that Jesus’ baptism by John was the moment that he received the Holy Spirit would be able to think that he was not a priest from his conception.

    However, the baptism by John was not really the moment our Savior was sanctified … rather, in being baptized, the Lord sanctifies the waters of baptism.
    He is not blessed at the baptism, but the waters are blessed by him.

    Thus, his baptism is quite diverse from ours, since he was already perfectly holy and truly a priest from the moment of his conception.

    Hope that clarifies! +

    • Ron Conte says:

      It would be heresy to claim that the human nature of Jesus did not have sanctifying grace and the indwelling of the Spirit from His Incarnation/conception. However, the fact that Jesus had sanctifying grace and the indwelling of the Spirit from conception does not prove that he had the formal Sacrament of Baptism, nor the Sacrament of Holy Orders, at that time.

      The Virgin Mary had sanctifying grace and the indwelling of the Spirit from conception, and yet tradition holds that she received the formal Sacrament of Baptism later in her adult life. And of course she did not have the Sacrament of Holy Orders at all. John the Baptist was sanctified in the womb, and yet he was not an ordained priest from the womb or from his birth.

      The Church teaches that the Sacraments require — absolutely for each and every Sacrament — certain exterior signs that effect the interior grace. It is contrary to the teaching of the Church about the Sacraments to claim that anyone, even Jesus in the womb, could receive a formal Sacrament without the accompanying exterior signs.

      I notice that Fr. Ryan’s answer above does not present any theological argument on the point of being ordained at conception. He only proves that Jesus was sanctified from conception, not that he was ordained.

  2. John says:

    Today’s 2nd reading at Church shed’s some light into when Jesus was ordained.

    [Hebrews 5]
    {5:1} For every high priest, having been taken from among men, is appointed on behalf of men toward the things which pertain to God, so that he may offer gifts and sacrifices on behalf of sins;
    {5:2} he is able to commiserate with those who are ignorant and who wander astray, because he himself is also encompassed by infirmity.
    {5:3} And because of this, he also must make such offerings for sins even for himself, in the same manner as for the people.
    {5:4} Neither does anyone take up this honor himself, but rather he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.
    {5:5} Thus, even Christ did not glorify himself, so as to become High Priest, but instead, it was God who said to him: “You are my Son. Today I have begotten you.”

    Were these not the same words God the Father pronounced at Christ’s baptism in the river Jordan ?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Good point. That passage might be interpreted so as to support the idea that Jesus received the Sacrament of Ordination at His baptism by John, not because of John, but because the Father spoke and acted at that time. However the wording that the Father used is a little different: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

  3. John says:

    Is Jesus sacramentaly baptized, confirmed and ordained ?

  4. John says:

    Thanks. Do you think Mary received baptism and confirmation ?

    • Ron Conte says:

      There is a tradition that Mary did receive the formal Sacrament of Baptism as an adult. This was not necessary, but was fitting, so that she would be like Christ, and so that she would be like the other members of the Church saved by Christ.

  5. John says:

    Ron, but isn’t Jesus the author of all graces and so he doesn’t need sacramental grace ?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The human nature of Christ is like us in all things but sin. Therefore, His human nature has grace. Jesus did not need the Sacraments to be saved. But it was fitting that He receive the three Sacraments that give an indelible mark on the soul, so that the Baptized, the Confirmed, and the Ordained would be like Him.

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